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MonkeyNotes-Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe
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The Old Man

The old man appears only at the end of the play when Faustus, in despair, is about to commit suicide. In the source book for the play, he is a neighbor. In Marlowe’s play he is a vague, allegorical figure utterly lacking in any individual character traits. He is the ideal Christian and takes the place of the Good Angel, who has exited for good. He is a continuing reminder, even at this stage, of the possibility of repentance. He speaks coaxingly of “the way of life” and bluntly of the way of damnation, “(the) most vile and loathsome filthiness.” The blood of Christ, he asserts, can still save Faustus. This is a very important assertion which Faustus tragically fails to accept.

The old man goes out sadly, for he can see no signs of repentance in Faustus. On his next and final appearance, he pronounces Faustus’ inevitable doom. After Helen has appeared to Faustus, the old man despairs. He witnesses and hears the major part of Faustus’ lines in praise of Helen. His presence adds a further dimension to this speech. He symbolizes salvation through repentance and the mercy of Christ at the very time when Faustus is uniting himself with Helen, the symbol of physical beauty, desire and the glory of the flesh. He laments the rejection by Faustus of heaven in favor of earthly delight, not with a living woman, but with a manifestation produced by the powers of evil. Finally, the old man shows by example how evil and devils can be resisted. In him good is the ultimate power. In Faustus, the search for power is through evil.


The Chorus

The Chorus is a well-known device that dates from Greek drama. The function of the Chorus was to provide a link between the actors and the audience and to comment on the events of the play. In the opening speech of Marlowe’s play, the Chorus prepares the audience for the subject of the play. It gives the necessary early biography of Faustus and sets the scene. The Chorus is the objective moral voice of the play. Even at this early stage it clearly outlines Faustus’ fate and condemns him. The fate of Icarus is to be that of Faustus. He is to bring wrath of heaven upon himself; he prefers magic before “his chiefest bliss.”

The appearance of the Chorus after the Seven Deadly Sins is almost purely a dramatic convention. The Chorus returns again to testify to the affections of Faustus’ friends and to the fame that he has gained by his knowledge and his power. Again, the speech is morally neutral. At the end the Chorus laments the waste of Faustus’ potential and holds this up as a warning to others who might be so tempted.

Helen of Troy

Helen is a symbol of physical perfection and represents all that Faustus desires in a woman. She is an ideal, not a real person. Therefore, she is completely unresponsive and silent. To the audience, she is merely a phantom, but to Faustus, at the end of his life, she is the one thing that makes his suffering and rebellion worthwhile. He believes that she literally can make him “immortal with a kiss.” Faustus’ address to Helen offers the most poetic lines in the play. In that passage gentle lyricism is combined with intensity of emotion. At the same time, Marlowe reminds the audience that Helen’s beauty is a symbol of destruction, for her face “launched a thousand ships/ And burnt the topless towers of Ilium.”

The Good Angel

The Good Angel is a supernatural being. He is a symbolic representation of Faustus’ own conscience. His words are the expression of Faustus’ secret thoughts. Whenever he appears, he reminds Faustus of the joys of heaven, to which he can aspire. When Faustus has given up all hope of salvation, the Good Angel becomes silent and then disappears.

The Bad Angel

The Bad Angel is a supernatural and a symbolic creature. He represents the ambitions and evil side of Faustus. He encourages Faustus to proceed in his search for power. Because this is what Faustus wants, he listens. At the end, the vision of hell is too much for Faustus. This angel’s last words are surprisingly moralistic: “He that loves pleasure must for pleasure fall.”

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